Doubt often accompanies me when heading out to see a new, unknown singer or band. As some of you know, I'm a musician and an ardent music fan. And I seek inspiration from fresh, vital music. On any given night in NYC there are countess talented folks fine-tuning their machines in tiny venues all over the city, ready to be consumed by ravenous music freaks like myself. Being the father of two small children doesn't always afford me the time to drink from their wells, but on occasion I do slip away and imbibe. Over the last few weeks I've witnessed some extraordinary music. Two weeks ago keyboard wizard and recent Boulder, CO transplant Erik Deutsch held a piano recital with his jazz trio at his loft in Williamsburg.
Mr. Deutsch invited a handful of artists to share their photography, painting, and poetry. He plans to make this a bi-monthly event. And if the first event is any indication of the professionalism and salon he plans to build in this loft space, you may want to attend one of his public shows and befriend him quickly. Mr. Deustch reminds me of a young Keith Jarrett or Ahmad Jamal in his lyrical style and inventive attack on his recently purchased Steinway grand. Leftover Salmon bassist Greg Garrison played upright and the set was comprised of his original compositions and a sprinkling of well-placed covers. Dylan's "Senor" was powerfully rendered and featured former Denver resident Marc Dalio's nimble deftness on the drum kit. I'm telling you now, this was as fine a jazz performance as I've seen in a long while and I hope they hit the club scene soon so I can drag Steve Holtje (our site editor and resident jazz freak) and other friends down to see them. Hungry for more,
I snuck away from the family this past weekend with my Italian friend, journalist Christian Rocca and his Italian comrade and fellow journalist Alberto Flores d'Arcais. Christian suggested we head down to the Village Vanguard to catch jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's trio. Having just picked up their wonderful new release Day Is Done, it seemed a perfect post-dinner suggestion. But en route to the storied venue we were sidetracked by a well-timed call from my friend Alan Kanoff, who suggested taking a detour east to meet him at the Baggott Inn in the heart of Greenwich Village.
After a quick subway ride, we walked briskly to the West 3rd street club and were ushered inside by an old acquaintance of mine -- bluegrass fanatic and manager Danny Arndt -- who was holding four seats down front. He was raging about how fortunate we were to have made it to this show. His only caveat was that if his other friends showed, we might have to vacate our seats. Lucky for us they never showed.
Though it was frosty outside, it was toasty inside as young mandolin maestro Chris Thile of Nickel Creek wowed a packed and sweaty crowd of newgrass fans. Now I'm not a huge fan of Nickel Creek. I'd admire the musicianship, but something about their studied approach to bluegrass leaves me cold. This new outfit however -- a five piece tentatively named The Tensions Mountain Boys -- was some hungry beast altogether. He and his young cohorts -- with upright bassist Greg Garrison again -- were throwin' it down and rippin' up sod in their 19-song, two-hour-plus show. (By the way, check out Greg's skills on fellow Leftover Salmon member Drew Emmitt's fine solo CD Across the Bridge on Compass Records.)
The quintet opened with a lyrical and expressive tune called "Song for a Young Queen" that will be featured on Mr. Thile's spring solo record that he's currently recording with this new outfit. The duo of Chris and his virtuoso fiddle player Gabe Witcher on Dylan's "Masters of War" was quietly liberating, as was a full-band rendition of Gillian Welch's "Miss Ohio." Two other memorable renditions of choice covers included the Louvin Brothers "Knoxville Girl" and The Band's classic "Ophelia" from Northern Lights-Southern Crosses. Mr. Thile, Mr. Witcher, and banjo-meister Noam Pikelny shared tight vocal harmonies and breathtaking musical interplay throughout.
Two movements from "Smoothie Song," a five-movement piece, bookended the evening with the same newgrass vibe that they opened with. After an encore of the bluegrass chestnut "Molly & Tenbrooks" with a blistering solo by flat picker Chris Eldridge (son of Seldom Scene's Ben Eldridge), they were gone. The spent, smiling crowd soaked in the moment, realizing they had just witnessed a very special performance.
And two nights later Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy had the capacity crowd at the stately Beacon Theater dancing in the aisles. Starting with an acoustic set to warm up the aging audience, Jorma broke out the goods during the second, "electric" set. His four-piece unit was effortless and inspired; his guitar solos weaving in and out with electric mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff. Jack and drummer Erik Diaz held down the bottom with aplomb. Throughout this vibrant set, the crowd jumped to their feet and danced during the extended jamming. It was quite a spectacle to see a capacity crowd boogie down in the maryjane-hazed venue, especially when one considers that most of the audience members had dim memories of Hot Tuna some thirty-plus years ago.
Although this was the first time I'd ever seen Hot Tuna, I had to smile as I walked home from the Beacon that night, thinking about Jorma, young Chris Thile, and Erik Deutsch. Music can be played by musicians and consumed by audience members of all ages. And when a musician is sharing on such a high level, regardless of the genre, or even if you're not a fan of that genre, you can't help but be inspired. We would all do well to be inspired by such simple things every day.